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Leaning Into Lent: Exhaustion

The first post I wrote called “Leaning Into Lent” wasn’t supposed to start a series of reflections. It was supposed to be an invocation and an invitation to be present in the season of Lent. It was supposed to be a challenge for me, someone who loves Lent, to lean even further into understanding more deeply what it means to lament and confess and run away from the one you have pledged to follow even unto death.

By Wednesday of this week, all of the leaning and reflecting caught up to me. After we put the kids to bed, I sat down to listen to make sure they settled and fell asleep. My leaning muscles were exhausted. My heart was heavy for all of the people hurting. My soul missed communion and community.

When I awoke it was already dark out. I ventured to the back deck where my partner and I sat looking at the supermoon finding constellations remembering we are simply stardust in a vast universe.

It is dark on this Good Friday night. I imagine the women and the disciples who were watching and waiting all day as Jesus suffered and then took his last breath fell in the same kind of exhausted sleep. They keep hoping for a miracle and they kept seeing suffering, hour after hour.

Beloved, it is ok if you are exhausted, if your leaning muscles and waiting heart just need to rest. Tomorrow it will be silent. We will wake up with puffy eyes from restless sleep or the number of tears we have shed. Tomorrow we will be silent and still as our bodies and souls recuperate from all of the leaning and waiting and hoping while being in the presence of suffering, hour after hour, day after day.

Give in. Let go. Rest now in the dark night.

Leaning Into Lent: Holy Monday

This week. This is the week we have been waiting for over the long, dark forty days. This is the week.

This week. This is the week that will be the deadliest that we have experienced in the US because of COVID-19. This is the week we have been dreading.

This is our dual reality.

Again and again, we have heard that medical professionals and state officials can’t let up, can’t stop, can’t rest because if they don’t keep working and keeping going then the number of casualties might be even more.

Again and again, we have walked this Holy Week road, remembering Jesus with his face set for Jerusalem and the suffering that is yet to come.

But this week feels different. The dual realities are intertwining and crashing into each other. We are seeking meaning. We are seeking healing. We are seeking hope. We are seeking light.

And so we walk into this week, with hearts breaking and eyes open. Watching and waiting.

Leaning Into Lent: Watering Healing

This weekend, we planted aloe, a plant that I had in my home growing up. I can remember one summer in elementary school helping my mom grill a sandwich in the super snacker panini press. As I was watching for the light to come on indicating my sandwich was ready, my thumb touched the small black strip that was hot. I immediately cried out in pain. After putting cold water on it, my mom took a small piece of our aloe plant squeezing the aloe on the burn. The relief was immediate.

I’ve thought about that a lot over these past three weeks. There are many times in my ministry I have wished there was a plant or a solution I could administer to those who were hurting. One of the hardest aspects of ministry for me has always been not being able to alleviate people’s suffering. To be sure I am always in awe to share those precious seasons and thoughts with them and to sit with them in their suffering, but the question always surfaces: “Is that enough? Could I do more?”

And maybe you are there too as you read and hear the stories of those who are suffering the physical impacts of COVID-19. Maybe you are there too as you read the stories of the medical professionals pulling double and triple shifts without the PPE they need. Maybe you are where I have been so often saying isn’t there a balm or solution that could alleviate this collective suffering we are all experiencing? Can’t we make this go away? Can’t this be healed?

In the midst of the uncertainty of who long this suffering will last and how close this suffering will come to each of us, I am comforted with the revelation that we are not alone. Although it may seem like we can’t do that much, we can sit here together in our grief, in our suffering, in our uncertainty, and in our vulnerability. This is enough. This is healing because we know that while we may be socially distant or even isolated from each other, we are not walking this journey alone.

That revelation is water nurturing and growing healing. Healing that comes in the tiniest plant, in text messages, in Facetimes, in notes, and in stories of good. Thanks be to God for the light that shines in the darkness.

Sitting in the Darkness

We’ve walked in darkness for the last 40 day.

We’ve longed and hoped for light.

 

But here we sit –

in the darkness,

in the hopelessness,

in the disappointment.

 

I didn’t understand this part for so long.

Perhaps I don’t even really understand it now.

I was taught Good Friday was good because it was about me.

my sins being forgiven.

my eternal life.

This is NOT about me or my salvation.

 

This is the kingdom of God here on earth.

A kingdom where all have food.

A kingdom where all are welcomed in.

A kingdom where all have shelter and sanctuary.

 

A kingdom so radically different

than the one here on earth

that the one

who was preaching and sharing the good news

would be put to death

in hopes that this idea wouldn’t spread

In hopes that power would remain in the hands of the powerful.

In hopes that systems would not change.

 

This is good news –

there is so much more.

Even in our dustiness,

we can be a part of something so much bigger.

Thanks be to God.

Whispers of the Divine

Have you ever been in a meeting talking about someone only to have them walk into the same place where you are sitting?

Have you watched a rose bush bloom for the first time this season just as Holy Week?

Have you walked into a store and heard one of your favorite songs just beginning?

Have you searched high and low for your car keys in the midst of Holy Week only to be met with a mischievous toddler grin?

Have you seen the sun and moon clearly at the same time hanging in the sky?

Have you seen two rescue pups unrelated, but raised as brothers, snuggle so it’s difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends?

Have you smelled the aroma of dinner wafting through the air?

Whispers of the Divine, calling, “Come and follow me.”

I Need Maundy Thursday

This Wednesday during our weekly chapel service at Transitions, we observed Maundy Thursday. We washed hands and took communion with the youth of New Hope Christian Fellowship and as we fellowshipped, we remembered the night Jesus supped with his disciples and gave them instructions to remember. Last night we gathered at New Hope to observe Maundy Thursday with foot washing and communion and darkness.

This day that is so often skipped in the days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday has become important to me. I need Maundy Thursday. I need to know that those who walked closest with Jesus looked at him that night trying to understand what his was saying, but not able to understand. Because I too have these days of darkness where I hear the words of Jesus, but don’t know what they means. I need to hear the declarations that those who followed Jesus most closely would not deny him, knowing that in just hours, those words would prove untrue. Because I too declare I won’t deny that I have been called to follow as Jesus’ disciple and then deny that call. I need to hear the uncertainty and the confusion in the voice of the those who followed Jesus so closely on that night. Because I too find myself sitting in the midst of uncertainty and confusion.

I need this part of the story of what it means to be a follower of Christ. I need to be reminded that uncertainty about the future, doubt, and darkness are a part of what it means to follow after Christ. I need to be reminded that this journey asks me to be vulnerable and uncertain and yet to still follow, even when it’s in darkness.

Spiritual Abuse and Grief

I didn’t realize the disconnect until I heard a reflection from one of my friend’s about the experience of attending a funeral and having an altar call. An altar call is a common part of evangelical communities of faith that invites people attending to “get right with the Lord” to “rededicate their lives” or to “make a profession of faith” or more simply to join of a community of faith with a congregational polity.

All of these terms are insider terms, I’ve heard my whole life. It didn’t ever seem odd to me to have an altar call at a funeral because altar calls were as common a part of the worship experience as singing the Gloria Patri or the Doxology are to other communities of faith. These liturgical elements of worship don’t stand out when you are one of the insiders who is accustomed to them.

But when we change funerals to celebrations of life, which there is good reason both theologically and emotionally for doing, we also run the risk of confining grieving loved ones to an expected reaction to death. When we say, “well, at least he or she is in a better place” or the like, then we are saying that you, loved one of the departed shouldn’t be upset or sad because you wouldn’t really choose this existence over heaven, would you? Guilt and shame and anxiety heaped on top of grief.

This is spiritual abuse.

Instead of dictating how people should respond to the shocking reality that someone they loved isn’t here, what if instead, we opted to not shroud death and grief in canned theological responses and simply allowed people to grieve, whichever and whatever way they needed to grieve in that moment, in that day.

A key part of spiritual abuse is coercion to a set of expected behaviors. Grief is not expected or controlled nor should it be. One of the reason communities of faith are so full of spiritual abuse is our need for control, predictability, and order.

But what if God is found not in the predictability and order, but in the unpredictability chaos that is life and death. Perhaps this week more than any other week as we follow Jesus and his disciples to the cross, we would do well to feel the loss and chaos and grief the disciples and loved ones in Jesus’ life felt as he was crucified on the cross. What if instead of skipping over Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to get to Easter morning, we sat in the grief and confusion and chaos of death as so many in our communities of faith are.

Perhaps then we could sit with those who have felt grief and loss so deeply and actually minister to them rather than adding spiritual abuse to their lives in a time of vulnerability.

I’m A Recovering Fundamentalist

I’m a recovering fundamentalist.

If you had met me in college or high school, you would not have liked me because I had all the judgmental, black and white thinking that comes with fundamentalism. You know the kind that tried to convert Catholics and Methodist as though they aren’t Christian because they attend the church across the street.

It’s hard for me to talk about how I thought and how I saw the world because the realization that there were Christians who did not label or group or try to counsel people out of who they were was so foreign to me. I read my Bible consistently growing up, and I prayed a lot, so how could I have so completely missed Jesus’ call to see those in need and love them as they were and where they were rather than seeing people as just another possible convert?

But I have to describe the way I used to think and they way I was so certain that I was right, the way I knew for sure what the Bible said and what the Bible didn’t say because at times I hear it creeping back into my rhetoric. On those Sunday mornings when the baby’s been especially hungry and wants to eat through the night, I hear my prayers return to Father God, when Creator God, Holy God, River of Life, or Still, Small Voice might have fit better.

I find myself in our Baby and Me class at the library talking to little girls and telling them how pretty they are when I could also describe how alert they are or strong their heads or legs or arms are. These stereotypes and assumptions that fill our words before we can filter them through what we want to say and what we mean to say rather than what we’ve always heard.

And now as I see Ben’s eyes focusing on me and can tell he is listening, I want to be ever more mindful of the words he hears me say to him, to those we meet, and especially when I am referring to the Divine.

Thanks be to God for grace and forgiveness even when it is God’s own name we use to oppress, label, and exclude. Thanks be to Creator God that I am a new creation being formed in the image of the Divine with the Divine’s breath in my lungs. May that breath of life fall on those I encounter rather than stereotypes, judgements, and labels.

Death’s Lurking Around Again

One of the great contradictions of Holy Week is it often comes just when the blooms are first appearing and the birds are singing as they busily build their nests.

Yes, you say this is the reminder that out of death comes life, just like the Holy Week message.

But that’s backwards, isn’t it? Aren’t we seeing new life right when we are supposed to remember death’s lurking around again as the hours tick away until we gather to remember and follow Jesus to the cross. How can I see life, but preach death?

Because death’s always lurking around. Just as the bird builds their nest in our hanging baskets on our porch preparing to lay eggs, so too are the lizards that ate the eggs from their nests last year lurking at the bottom of the railings of our porch waiting to see if they can snatch away new life before it begins.

And just as we try to prepare to celebrate the Good News of the resurrected Christ as ministers preparing for a high, holy day, our news feeds are filled with stories of the death of 30 and 200 injured. Just when we had bought our new Easter dresses and our new Easter shoes, death’s lurking around again.

And as we celebrate with friends over the birth of their children, we also mourn the loss of young moms who battle cancer and leave behind young children because death’s lurking around again reminding us even when it’s not Ash Wednesday that we are dust and to dust we will return.

In these moments we are often paralyzed just as Mary is at the tomb in John’s account trying to understand why death is always lurking around again and why we can’t just have one moment, one day to not think about how little time we have on earth and with those we love. Why can’t I just be blissfully ignorant? Why must death lurk around again?

Because the power of new life is that it happens miraculous and unexpectedly even when death is lurking around again and each time we witness that new life, let us notice and share the miracle of resurrection and the miracle of death together in one week, together in each day, together in our lives.

Thanks be to God, death’s lurking around again.

Waiting is Not Easy

Mo Williems is one of our favorite authors and we are big Elephant and Piggie fans, but this is not one of our favorites because Waiting Is Not Easy! In the book Gerald is waiting for a surprise and Piggie has guaranteed it’s going to be a good surprise and that Gerald is going to love it. He just has to wait for the surprise, but Gerald doesn’t want to wait. He wants the surprise now. Why, he insists, must he wait?

For 40 long days, we have kept our ears open for the whisper of the still, small voice of the divine. We have kept our eyes open for evidence of the divine working in the world. We have disciplined ourselves in prayers of confession and acts of fasting. We have been waiting and waiting is not easy.

It would be easy  to rush through this week, this Holy Week, we have been waiting on in order to get to the celebration of resurrection, of new life.

But let’s wait.

Let’s wait and watch and listen and wonder and follow the footsteps of Christ.

Let’s wait just a little bit longer because maybe in the waiting, we remind ourselves that following after Christ isn’t about knowing for sure what new life looks like. Maybe in the waiting, we remind ourselves that although we know the story, there could be something we have missed as we have rushed through Jesus’ suffering in years past. Maybe in the waiting, we will find the answers to the prayers we have been praying for those we love and for ourselves.

Waiting isn’t easy, but maybe waiting puts us squarely in the path Jesus walked. Waiting reminds us of of the journey to the cross. Waiting reminds us that this Holy Week isn’t about what we need, but about what the world and the kingdom of God needs from us.